This month Physiotherapy Alberta shines its member spotlight on Edmonton-based physiotherapist Janine Halayko who combined her passion for working in pediatrics and her skills as a physiotherapist to develop You Can Ride 2. The program grew from the vision that “all children will be able to experience the joy and freedom of riding a bike”1 regardless of the physical or other challenges they may experience.
Janine knew she wanted to work with kids with disabilities from high school and entered the University of Alberta Physiotherapy program in 1995 to pursue that goal. Upon graduation, she immediately began working in the field of pediatrics and has continued working with this population throughout her career.
In 2001, Janine had a nine-year-old patient ask if she was the only one in grade three that could not ride a bike like everyone else. Janine realized how isolating that would feel and that, as a physiotherapist, she should be able to help. She started researching learn to ride programs in Edmonton and discovered there were no programs offered for older children with disabilities. So, Janine took it upon herself to gather a team of professionals from the pediatric team she worked with to develop a learn to ride program, and You Can Ride 2 was born.
Janine and her team used task analysis to identify the skills required to ride a bike and determine what skills this young girl was unable to perform. The team put the two together and, three sessions later, her young patient was riding a bike! It became immediately apparent that this was a huge deal for this little girl and her family. The team decided they needed to form a community of support and develop a structured way to teach bike riding to other children who also wanted to learn to ride a bike.
The Learn to Ride program started in 2002 with a small group of 5-6 children. 100% of these first participants learned to ride a traditional two-wheeled bike. It was a game changer for the children, providing a gateway to building their confidence and becoming more accepted in their social spheres. Janine and her passionate team felt this was too important an opportunity to let go and began working with a variety of community partners to expand the program.
You Can Ride 2 now offers two separate programs to the Edmonton community: Learn to Ride and Borrow a Bike. The Learn to Ride program matches team members with children experiencing a variety of physical or learning challenges. These team members work with the child to identify the goals of the child and family, what barriers are preventing the child from achieving his/her goals, what skills need to be developed, and how a standard two-wheeled bike can be modified to address the child’s needs. This is where the You Can Ride 2 bike mechanics shine, as they often have to invent new adaptations to match the bike to the child.
“It takes a team that includes the physiotherapist, the family, the child and the bike mechanic to make a child’s dream a reality,” explains Janine. “This is what makes the physiotherapist-led, You Can Ride 2 program unique in Alberta.”
Janine shared the story of a little boy with spina bifida to illustrate what the team would like to provide to each and every child. The little boy needed a hand-cycle that could support an oxygen tank. He had limited upper extremity range of motion, so the bike mechanics modified the bike by attaching a crank shortener to the hand crank and rotated the entire system upwards to compensate for a loss of pronation range. After these modifications had been completed, the boy’s Mom shared an essay he had written for school. The boy wrote about what he would do if he found a pot of gold, saying that he would buy a red bike with his pot of gold. After reading the essay, the bike mechanics dismantled the work they had just finished and took the bike to the paint shop. The little boy, his family and the entire team broke into tears when he was provided with his own red bike.
“That’s what it is all about. This is why the team and all the volunteers do what we do. These bikes mean the world to both the child and the family,” says Janine. “They open the door to be a part of their community in a normal way and are a gateway to participation, community and relationships. It is never just a bike.”
Over the years, the You Can Ride 2 team came to realize that there was no one size fits all method to teach this diverse population to ride a bike. The team learned how important it was to listen to the child, to facilitate their own problem solving and arrive at a solution that worked for them. It also became rapidly apparent that many different perspectives were needed, and the team grew to involve a variety of professionals, volunteers and bike mechanics.
In 2006, the Learn to Ride program started working with children with autism and quickly realized that alternate teaching methods were needed. Working with speech-language pathologists, the team developed a variety of visual communication aides to facilitate teaching and learning and divided the Learn to Ride program into two classes, one that utilized more traditional teaching methods and one that incorporated one-on-one sessions using more visual and practice-based methods. Over the next few years the program grew to include children with Down Syndrome and Cerebral Palsy.
The Borrow a Bike Program became a reality in 2012 when a couple of families donated their adapted or custom-built bikes back to the program. As word got out, more families and community organizations donated bikes or money to the program and the bike pool grew from 2 to over 50 within the first year. These donations allowed the team to match a child with the best bike rather than try to adapt the bike they could afford or get funding for. Currently the Borrow a Bike program owns over 180 bikes that can be modified and loaned to children in the Edmonton area.
Parents have described the effects of learning to ride a two-wheeled bike or receiving an adapted bike has had on their children and their families.
"It is hard to explain in words how much positive impact You Can Ride 2 has had on our family,” says Alejandra Calvo, whose son has been involved in the program since it’s inception. “What most people take for granted, a simple bike ride as means of play or socializing, or even exercise, for us was beyond reach. This program allows our child to be a kid, to have the same almost universal childhood experience of riding a bike. Those experiences are sometimes hard to find."
Along the way, Janine has been sharing what she and the team have learned. The You Can Ride 2 program has the ability to track results, gather statistics and do research. This has led Janine to co-author a chapter in the 2011 book Getting into the Game: Programs for kids with autism that shared knowledge the team had gathered related to teaching children with autism spectrum disorder to ride a bike.
Janine also developed a “train the trainer” course to share knowledge with other physiotherapists across the province and expand the reach of the program. Janine completed her Masters in Rehabilitation in 2014, and published a research paper entitled Enabling two-wheeled cycling for youth with Down Syndrome in 2016. Most recently, Janine has authored a chapter in Cognitive Orientation to Daily Occupational Performance in Occupational Therapy, published in 2017. As a result of this research and the knowledge Janine and her team have accumulated, the program has received numerous prestigious awards and team members have presented at many Canadian and International conferences. The list of these accomplishments and more information about the program can be found on the You Can Ride 2 website.
Until 2015, the You Can Ride 2 program was run entirely by volunteers and relied on community associations to provide bike storage for the Borrow a Bike program. Thanks to a number of generous donations, the program has been able to hire a program coordinator and head bike mechanic but continues to rely heavily on its volunteers. At each bike fitting day, physiotherapists and other health care professionals, bike mechanics and 50 to 75 other volunteers donate their time and energy to ensure over 300 children learn to ride a bike or are matched with adapted bikes.
In 2016 the program moved to a permanent location at the Impact Centre at Goodwill and came under the umbrella of the Goodwill Industries of Alberta in 2017. Goodwill Industries provides much needed space and administrative services but the You Can Ride 2 program still relies on donations to support the program.
With Janine leading the way, You Can Ride 2 has grown from 1-2 small groups a year to helping 100 to 150 children a year learn to ride, and the Borrow a Bike program has over 180 purchased and donated bikes in the loan pool. The Learn to Ride program has recently expanded to Fort McMurray.
A native Edmontonian, Janine and her husband have raised three daughters while working and volunteering. When asked what she does for fun, she said that spending time with family is a priority, but she did wish she had a little more time to spend on her own bike. For most of her career, Janine has worked and volunteered with many different organizations and community groups and feels this has given her a more wholistic view and allowed her to provide her patients the best care she can.
How physiotherapists can be involved in teaching kids how to ride
You Can Ride 2 exists thanks to the efforts of a great many people, including a number of physiotherapists. If you are interested in learning more about the program, want to offer a “train the trainer” course or volunteer, please visit their website: https://youcanride2.ca/. Janine and her team are always looking for more volunteers or physiotherapists to provide this opportunity so more children can enjoy the freedom and joy that comes from bike riding. They would love to hear from you.
You Can Ride 2: Vision statement. Available at https://youcanride2.ca/
Patient Safety. Every Person. Every Time.
Regulating Alberta's physiotherapy profession and acting as an association by providing member services.